Behind the Cantlay Food Distribution Center, on an unremarkable street in Santa Ana, stands the shining and beautiful Catholic Charities’ Garden of Hope. It’s a former parking lot now decorated with murals of butterflies and sacred Catholic images — a community garden with the goal of teaching the 700 recipients the Center serves how to grow their own food.
VOLUNTEER JOAN STEEN, WHO FIRST BROACHED THE IDEA OF THE GARDEN OF HOPE, TENDS TO THE GARDEN. PHOTO COURTESY OF SPENCER GRANT/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
The garden consists of 96 state-of-the-art raised garden beds — “A hydroponic vertical garden system using recycled water,” according to designer and builder Alan Smith. Six years ago, he built a smaller garden at Christ Cathedral Academy to teach children how to grow food.
“This effort has to be expanded across the country because of food and water shortages,” he explained, adding that he hopes his innovation will go viral. “All churches need to see the need for growing their own food.”
The facility includes an education center for CalFresh Living Services, a ministry of Catholic Charities of Orange County. The staff gives cooking demonstrations and holds classes on healthy eating and good nutrition using ingredients from the garden. They teach the local community how to stretch food dollars and build partnerships in communities to make healthy choices.
A year after the founding of the Garden of Hope, founding members, staff, sponsors and volunteers gathered on Saturday, June 18 to celebrate those who made the garden possible. There was a blessing and dedication by the Most Reverend Thanh Thai Nguyen, D.D. Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Orange. The keynote speaker was celebrity chef, restaurateur and author Lidia Bastianich. The Paul Smith Group provided musical entertainment.
Apart from the dedication and blessing, the event was a festive garden party including champagne, a gourmet buffet and imaginative ladies’ hats, often with a Monarch butterfly theme that reflected the butterfly murals on the walls by artist Brian Peterson.
“Looking at the life that radiates from the Garden of Hope, it may be hard to imagine this space was once a dull parking lot,” observed Ellen A. Roy, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Orange County. “Started as a labor of love for Jesus and our neighbors, we have come so far in cultivating a bright and welcoming place for the local community.
Tomatoes, basil, strawberries and many other colorful plants thrive, while vibrant murals bring renewed hope.”
Roy spoke about the unprecedented growth the Garden of Hope experienced this year. Volunteers constructed a barn for children to practice their creative capacities; the staff of CalFresh Healthy Living gave their first tutorial on how to make delicious chicken lettuce wraps; a living cross was erected in the garden, symbolizing Christ’s humble blessing; just last month, an ethereal depiction of the Divine Mercy was added to the newest mural.
“In addition to enjoying the garden’s fruitful harvest,” Roy said, “we hope the local community gains the skills to cultivate their own gardens and prepare affordable garden-to-table meals in their own homes. This is a better way to evangelize the faith — through feeding people.”
Auxiliary Bishop Nguyen blessed the Garden and shared these words:
“Today we celebrate the dedication and blessing of the Garden of Hope, a milestone in the ever-serving mission of Catholic Charities of Orange County. You have given all your God-given talents and treasure to make this Garden a reality. You are doing great work here! I am humbled to stand beside you and make history together.”